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Leaping Back to the Founding, Part 4: I’m Not the Only One Struggling with Understanding “Natural Law”

October 28, 2009


Part 1: The Left Really Reveals Its Hatred of the American Idea

Part 2: Is This a Christian Nation Theory?

Part 3: If Natural Law is the Basis of America Then How Come No One Can Explain It?

Yesterday’s discussion of Natural Law featured others who, like me, struggled with the concept. Though there were numerous great thoughts — and I encourage everyone to check out the thread — this one really jumped out at me:

2009 October 27

I, too, have struggled intellectually with the concept of natural law. I think Alan and Cas are on the right track. Over time, I’ve come to the idea that natural law refers to the inevitable consequences of human behavior. The problem David outlines, that reasonable people can differ greatly in their interpretation of right and wrong, stems from a culture that has attempted through misguided “empathy” to separate man from the natural consequences of his thoughts and actions. Cas points out man’s right to self-defense, which today has become so warped that we regularly question the rights of Americans and Israelis to protect themselves from attack. In our litigious society one scarcely dares to confront a burglar in one’s own home.

However, I think the problem David articulates goes further. For the most blatant and easily reasoned example: The natural consequences of promiscuous sex include the spread of disease, unwanted pregnancies, single parenthood as well as the psychological/physiological coarsening of the self and ultimately the coarsening of civil society. Yet we celebrate promiscuous sex in our culture and then charge medical science and government to devise the means to avoid the consequences. Because this is “natural” law, we cannot in reality avoid the consequences and the more we attempt to do so, the worse things get.

By the same token, one can look to the Ten Commandments, and other precepts of major religions and find they all ban the same behaviors or types of behaviors, varying mostly in the type and severity of punishment for engaging in them. Why?

Religion and Law are entwined in that both attempt to govern individual behavior in such a way as to, in a sense, preempt natural consequences in order to create a civil society. Think about it: sloth, greed, gluttony, adultery, the killing of innocents, not “honoring” our fathers and mothers, not “honoring” others, theft, coveting, etc. all carry natural consequences beyond law or religious dictates. Yet today, we excuse all of these things out of a foolish sense of “empathy” for the “sinner.” We make it a case of supporting the “sinner” or the “victim” and forget the natural consequences of the “sin.” (one can even make the case for not worshiping any other Gods, but Beck is on in a few minutes)

Today we’ve twisted everything in such a way as to present right as wrong and wrong as right to such an extent that David and most of us are rightly confused. Natural law gets all mixed up with the notion of the Noble Savage and our inner desire to express our own Will. And so we have a whole segment of society that believes Man is evil and a pox on the earth. When in reality, Man has both an animal and god-like nature. The evils we perpetrate are most often the result of giving in to our animal nature and forgetting to be god-like and denying the responsibilities entailed.

Our founders understood this in ways I am continually discovering …

  1. Barmat permalink
    October 28, 2009 1:52 pm

    A succint and accurate argument.

  2. Cas Balicki permalink
    October 28, 2009 2:15 pm

    I tried to stay away from the interjection of religious belief in defining natural law, but there is a religious definition of natural law that comes to us from St. Thomas Aquinas and it holds that God has a plan for His creation that is complete and perfect, any law in balance with God’s plan is natural and good and any not in balance is bad or unnatural. In the first instance this strikes me as far too general a definition to be of much value, in addition, it relies on knowing or attempting to divine God’s plan, a dangerous ambition at any time, and more so when writing law.

    The reason I tried not to interject God into this discussion is because such interjection requires a prior acceptance of God and His plan in order to be meaningful to the reader. Now, this acceptance works for many but not all who might be struggling with this definition.

    • donnamarie permalink
      October 29, 2009 4:06 am

      As I get older I find that when you take “God” or a higher being out of the equation you effectively eliminate morality.

  3. David Thomson permalink
    October 28, 2009 4:00 pm

    “In our litigious society one scarcely dares to confront a burglar in one’s own home.”

    The following story is a reminder of this harsh fact of life:

    “PORTLAND, Ore. – A man convicted of murder is now targeting one of his victims again, and he’s winning in court.

An Oregon inmate who killed one man in 2006 is now suing his former hostage.”

  4. Kyle permalink
    October 29, 2009 4:08 am

    This post grabbed me yesterday. This is the best explaination of “Natural Law” that I have read. I have always believed if society were “allowed” to suffer the consequences of its behavior we would all be better off. Of course we need laws, but in today’s world the left has attempted to prevent us from suffering natural consequeces.

    The example of no losers in little leaque sports comes to mind. When you are prevented from consequences your maturation is slowed and you end up where we are right now. A society of people that believe they are entitled to anything and everything.

    I guess we are currently suffering from the consequences of our own behavior. I for one did not awaken to what is going on until very recently. But now that I am aware….I am willing to deal with what ever “Natural Law” has to dish out as I go about trying to wake others up and move our country back to what the Founders invisioned.

  5. Duncan permalink
    October 29, 2009 4:59 am

    Good One……. David S. !!! Interesting….

    Am just wondering……
    Why is it so hard for many to understand the goals of the Founding ?
    The men that followed along & became LEADERS are getting from bad to WORST !!!
    AND~Many who holds good positions are just making terrible blunders…..
    Worst still~Ruining the Country…..
    Strange things are a Happenin’….
    Really sad, man….Sad

  6. October 29, 2009 6:05 am

    Yes, this was an excellent response to the natural law question. And I would like to add…that man’s Law (most usually based on God’s law) is not only given to govern…but to inform and enlighten. The conscience of a man (or woman) usually acts in this function, but the law is made for the lawbreakers. In black and white, it is the plumb line, the line drawn in the sand of what is right and what is wrong. But the lines have become muddied. I once asked someone if stealing from others was ok in order to give to the poor. They couldn’t answer. The Progressive has trouble with moral relativism, because they know no absolutes. In their mind, it’s all relative to the situation.

  7. MaryAnn permalink
    October 29, 2009 8:53 am

    My understanding of Natural Law is that it teaches that all creation has an inherent order and purpose. By using our reason, we can know what conforms to our human nature, and therefore know what is good. We instinctively know that rape, murder, stealing, neglecting the poor are wrong.Law is rooted in morality because it codifies what we ought to do; it encourages right behavior and discourages wrong behavior, and attempts to coordinate the behavior of all for the sake of the common good. Moral relativism is an attack on both Natural Law and the laws of society.

  8. October 29, 2009 11:55 am

    Cas replied: “I tried to stay away from the interjection of religious belief in defining natural law, …” and “I tried not to interject God into this discussion is because such interjection requires a prior acceptance of God and His plan in order to be meaningful to the reader.” Good points and a reflection of my own trepidation in deciding to interject religion into the discussion. Perhaps my point needs clarification.

    I did not mean to imply that religious belief “defines” natural law. Quite the opposite; my argument was that religion is a RESPONSE to natural law and is one of the most common among many societal institutions mankind has devised to pass along to our progeny and our fellow man, the wisdom – or anticipation of consequences – to both survive and thrive as a species, as various social entities and as individuals – in this natural world. Certainly, as a construct of man and society, Religion can be perverted, hence our mutual trepidation. On the other hand, can you think of any institution of man, any school of thought from science to philosophy to raising one’s own children, that can not be perverted? However, if one gets to the core of the ideas of religion (and law) in societies that have survived for any length of time, one finds commonalities that I find thought-provoking and amazing in their seemingly perfect logic.

    As to God’s Plan, I don’t think one has to accept the totality of Judeo/Christian thought (or that of any other religion) to recognize that whoever, or whatever created – or what random set of circumstances culminated in – Life on Earth, the purpose of every living organism is to perpetuate and duplicate itself. This is basic science which can be found also in the religious idea that God commanded man to “go forth, be fruitful and multiply.” Is this not the imperative inherent in every living thing, right down to a single cell? To the best of my knowledge, Man is the only organism that questions this “natural” imperative.

    Which brings me to donnamarie’s comment: “As I get older I find that when you take “God” or a higher being out of the equation you effectively eliminate morality.” While on one level I agree, I also must ask, would morality exist at all without man?

  9. Rhodi permalink
    October 29, 2009 12:37 pm

    In answer to your last question, I think the answer is two-fold: I believe that God exists as a being separate from human beings. God has always existed and is not a construct of human thought. God is moral, and on that premise, whether humans exist or not, morality exists because it is in the nature of God. (And immorality is the absence of God himself).

    But without the creation of humanity in a relationship with God, morality would not be tangible; in other words, it would not be needed or have a reason to exist outside of God’s nature himself.

  10. PhilBest permalink
    October 29, 2009 3:25 pm

    In following this topic as it was discussed on the previous thread and now this one, I am surprised that no-one has referred to C. S Lewis’ discussion of “the Tao” in the book “The Abolition of Man”. The appendix is a very scholarly compendium of “laws” that are common to virtually all belief systems in mankind.

    I recommend to everyone who is interested, to read the entire work “The Abolition of Man”, which is online at the above web address, just follow the links to each chapter. The following excerpt from Chapter 1 is apposite:

    “……St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science. Plato before him had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting and hateful. In the Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one ‘who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this before he is of an age to reason; so that when Reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hands in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her.’ In early Hinduism that conduct in men which can be called good consists in conformity to, or almost participation in, the Rta—that great ritual or pattern of nature and supernature which is revealed alike in the cosmic order, the moral virtues, and the ceremonial of the temple. Righteousness, correctness, order, the Rta, is constantly identified with satya or truth, correspondence to reality. As Plato said that the Good was ‘beyond existence’ and Wordsworth that through virtue the stars were strong, so the Indian masters say that the gods themselves are born of the Rta and obey it.

    The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao. It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar. ‘In ritual’, say the Analects, ‘it is harmony with Nature that is prized.’ The ancient Jews likewise praise the Law as being ‘true’.

    This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as ‘the Tao’. Some of the accounts of it which I have quoted will seem, perhaps, to many of you merely quaint or even magical. But what is common to them all is something we cannot neglect. It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are. Those who know the Tao can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself—just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind. And because our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason (when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due but cannot feel it). No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it………”

  11. Cas Balicki permalink
    October 29, 2009 4:13 pm

    Morality in the absence of God, an atheist will argue, is some variant of the golden rule refined by game theory in that the best outcome for an individual is determined by the mental juxtaposition of two very human desires: the first of which is the desire to be optimistic, the second, the desire for revenge. We enter into transactions optimistic that we will not be taken advantage of because it takes less energy to be an optimist than to live in a state of constant fear. If our worst fears do come to pass and we are taken advantage of, we look to extract revenge, an unpredictable and fearsome consequence of the loss of trust. Our partners in our human transactions have the same fears we have and hence they act as we might act by balancing their optimism against their aversion to vengeance. Hence partners to human transactions have no need of recourse to morality, according to the atheist, as our mutual fear of revenge coupled with our tendency to optimism predetermines fairness in most situations. What this imposition of morality by gaming-theory suggests is that there is neither an absolute good nor any need of such as all our actions flow from self-interest.

    What does not fit the above picture is man’s ability to sacrifice even to the death. The atheist will point to animals that sacrifice themselves for their young in attempting to render humanity’s selflessness as not uncommon to the animal world. The difficulty with this position is that animal self-sacrifice is, for lack of any science proving otherwise, instinctive, which is to argue preordained. When humans sacrifice for others we must overcome our fears and our own instinct for self-preservation in the face of a less altruistic alternative, cowardice. To rephrase, when it comes to altruism, humans have options where animals do not. This ability to choose, therefore, elevates man’s actions above nature, especially given that nature for that most part skews to self-preservation. The psychologists have valiantly tried to define man’s “supernatural” behaviour as a response to some overarching psychological need, a need so strong or so perverted that it is sufficient to overpower our basic need for self-preservation. But such explanations are not to my taste as they smack too much of a mental deficiency driving behaviour and not enough of free will and our tendency to altruism.

    Does this post bring us any closer to defining natural law? I guess the answer to that question would depend on whether one believed in man as something greater than the sum of his instincts.

  12. Rhodi permalink
    October 29, 2009 4:41 pm

    Interestingly, C.S. Lewis was a ‘militant non-believer’ and atheist before he ‘wrestled’ with the words and works of Christ and became a Christian in 1931.

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